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Citizenship

No Valentine? There's Still a Reason to Celebrate

Flickr: James Ennis

On February 14, couples around the world will celebrate the day of love, but if Cupid hasn’t hit you with one of his arrows this year, worry not. Who needs a Valentine when you can celebrate Global Divestment Day?!

Ok, so perhaps it’s a little less sexy, but there are some good reasons why you should be paying attention to this issue.

What is divestment?

The divestment movement is calling on institutions to get rid of their stocks, bonds, and investment funds in fossil fuels. The movement is a response to our current climate crisis, and stems from both moral and practical reasons for reducing ties and funding for fossil fuel companies. Events are being held around the world on February 13 and 14 in support of the movement.

Here are three reasons you should care:

1.The movement will influence this year’s climate negotiations

At the end of 2015, Paris will host a United Nations Climate Change Conference. The divestment movement aims to put pressure on negotiators by creating a critical mass of support for international efforts to reduce global warming. The conference is expected to produce an agreement to limit greenhouse gases from 2020 onwards. The divestment movement will influence this conference by taking moral and monetary power away from the fossil fuel industry, and showing world leaders that the world is watching their decisions in Paris.

2.Divestment is gaining serious momentum

The movement for fossil fuel divestment has grown rapidly and now includes both huge names and huge numbers. $50 billion in assets have already been pledged for divestment from fossil fuels: commitments made by institutions, governments, and individuals.

A number of colleges and universities have committed to divestment, as well as a growing list of cities, religious institutions, foundations, and other high profile institutions like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The Rockefeller announcement was extraordinary because of the size of the Fund ($860 million USD) and because of the Rockefellers’ family history (John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil in 1870).

Just yesterday, a group of Harvard students launched a sit-in outside the university president’s office, demanding full divestment of the school’s financial assets (which are not small) from fossil fuels to “align its financial choices with its purported values.”

The campaign has also been endorsed by notable leaders, including Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, voiced his support at the World Economic Forum summit last month in Davos.

3.Divestment campaigns have worked before

Divestment was a strategy first proposed by the UN in the 1960s, and adopted some 20 years later by the US, to protest South Africa’s apartheid system. Similar to today’s fossil fuel divestment movement, the anti-apartheid campaign started with universities, cities, and notable celebrity figures like Paul Simon. It was later adopted on the federal level. American divestment, in combination with that of other participating countries, made a significant impact on the South African economy and was one of the catalysts for negotiations, leading ultimately to the collapse of the apartheid system.

In the US, a similar story played out with the tobacco industry in the '90s. As the dangers of smoking became clear, a number of institutions eliminated tobacco companies from their portfolios. While tobacco companies are of course still around, the campaign was effective in drawing attention to the harms of smoking and made strides towards delegitimizing the industry.


Successful divestment campaigns draw significant attention to the issues they target and can be very effective, even if the moral shaming is more impactful than the economic hit. The fossil fuel divestment movement is becoming increasingly influential and will continue to gain steam. It gives voice to the urgency with which we need to take meaningful action on climate change, and shows the power that citizen-led movements can have. So, if you don’t find yourself in the arms of a lover this Valentine’s Day, the divestment movement will be there to welcome you with open arms.

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Allie Kehoe